Running Your Computer for Free - The Best Free Software Alternatives

Posted by Jarren Long at 2016-06-20 10:23:45

In today's day and age, there is a myriad of software, licenses, and EULAS that need to be considered when turning on your computer every day. With the recent shift to cloud-based Software As A Service, software licensing costs have been changing from a large, one-time up front fee, to a smaller monthly subscription fee, making the cost of the software look much smaller. If you really think about it, you will spend more money on software throughout your life than you ever will on the computers you own. This topic certainly deserves a blog post of it's own, but I'll save that for a later date.

In short, there is absolutely no reason any computer user should have to pay ridiculous sums of money every month to use the computer they already own. Enter Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).

A Very Brief History

Ever since the 1990's (around the time that the Linux Operating System was created by Linus Torvalds), the Free Software Movement has been growing, where software developers (like myself) have been creating some very useful computer programs, and releasing them for public use at $0 cost. This software is called Free and Open Source Software, because the developer releases the software, along with the source code, free of charge, with no restrictions on use, leading people to refer to FOSS as "Free as in freedom".

There are thousands of FOSS applications available on the internet that can be used to operate your PC. Since I'm such a nice guy, I've put together a list of some of the more common programs. This list should give you the basic programs that would let you operate a full FOSS environment, freeing yourself of licensing forever!

Operating System

Your computer's Operating System is exactly that, the system that operates. Without an OS, your computer would do, well, pretty much nothing.

*Microsoft Windows -> Ubuntu,

There are thousands of varieties of Linux in the world, most of which are 100% FOSS. Ubuntu, while it doesn't really look or feel like Windows at all, still provides all of the basic tools you will ever need for personal computing.


*Apple Mac Replacement -> Elementary OS,

Anther Linux variation, elementary comes out of the box styled after the altest version of Apple iOS, making it a great replacement for those Apple users out there. While I have not tried this distro myself, it does look enticing.


Productivity Tools

If you can't be productive with a computer, then what is the point of using one? And don't say Facebook.. Here's some replacement tools for the office:

*Microsoft Office -> LibreOffice

At a cost of $70-150/year, Office isn't exactly cheap these days (I remember when it was $200 and you kept it forever). However, you can get all of the same tools at a marginal cost of $0/forever by switching to LibreOffice. LibreOffice is an amazing office suite that usually comes installed on your linux desktop, and gives you Writer (MS Word), Impress (MS Powerpoint), Calc (Excel), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing) tools right out of the box. You'll basically get all of the goodness of MS Office, plus some! The best part: LibreOffice can open and save in MS Office native file formats, so your documents can be used between them without a problem.


*Microsoft Outlook - Evolution

For those of us who still use an email client, Evolution is an excellent tool that provides email, calendar, and contacts handing, with a very familiar look and feel to Outlook. For those of us you who do not use an email client, I bet Outlook had something to do with why you don't...


Graphics Editing

Photo and video editing is a very common use for computers these days, especially with the advent of websites like Instagram, which are based around taking good pictures for posterity.Check out some of these excellent alternative applications for editing your perfect shot:

*Adobe Photoshop -> The GNU Image Manipulation Program ("The GIMP")

Photoshop has been the de-facto standard for photo and graphics editing for many years, and is an exceptional application. Once upon a time, a single-user license for this program would sell for a whopping $500, however with the move to the Adobe Creative Cloud platform, Photoshop can be used on a subscription basis at as little as $20/month. But what if you want the power of Photoshop without the bill? Enter The GNU Image Manipulation Program ("The GIMP"), stage left. The GIMP is an image and graphics editing program with the same/similar features as Photoshop, but with the outrageous price of NOTHING! Even though The GIMP is FOSS, it is still fully-featured and powerful enough that it is used by Hollywood for editing graphics on major motion pictures.


*Adobe Illustrator -> Inkscape

Adobe Illustrator is the vector graphics version of Photoshop, allowing you to edit SVG, EPS, and other vector with ease. Inkscape is an excellent alternative to Illustrator, giving you all the tools you need to create, modify, and render your vectors anyway you like.


*3DS Max -> Blender

When it comes to 3D modeling, Autodesk is widely considered the best in the market, with only one competitor: Blender. Blender is well suited to individuals and small studios who benefit from its unified pipeline and responsive development process. Want to make a game? Blender has a built-in Python API for scripting out your own scenes, giving you the power to create your very own 3D game using use one program.


Other Applications

There are thousands more Free and Open Source Software applications out there in the world that can be used to replace every facet of your computer. More examples: